Over 2000 years ago, St. Paul traveled to what was then, the known world’s cultural and political capital of Athens, and found himself atop Mars Hill (Areopagos) admonishing the Athenians for their worship of idols and exposing their ignorance in their acknowledgment of an “unknown god”. After much debate and sermonizing, St. Paul’s proclamation of the true God’s spiritual salvation resonated with many of Athens’ leading citizens and helped spawn Christianity’s growth in the Western world.
In today’s tragic modern Athenian parallel, the Greek political establishment continuous to worship the false gods of socialism and central planning while repeating the unholy Troika trinity’s mantra of “bail-outs and austerity”. Fortunately, readers do not require St. Paul’s divine discernment to realize the folly of the economic idolaters, only common sense and a bit of insight from Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, the father of free-market capitalism.
In every country, wealth is created in the same way: When savings exceed consumption, the surplus is eventually transformed into capital. Entrepreneurs attempt to use their capital to earn profitable returns. The more profitable an enterprise, the more both capital and employment will be attracted to the various business ventures ultimately creating profits, jobs, wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately for Greece, under the aegis of the EU, savings rarely exceeded consumption. Borrowing beyond its means, to pay for entitlements to its citizens and civil servants, impeded this wealth creating process. Now, the bumbling bureaucrats from Brussels have killed it.
Unlike innovative risk - taking and job - creating entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, who provided valued products to consumers and created tremendous wealth for their shareholders and employees, the EU and the ECB are largely comprised of career politicians, inept bankers and insulated academicians, who’ve never run, managed or founded any sort of entrepreneurial venture - not even a “periptero” (newspaper stand).
This is the same revered “trinity” that either for political reasons, lack of economic incentive or sheer ineptitude, failed to see through Greece’s economic statistical smoke and mirrors and approved Greece’s dubious entrance into the EU. Both the EU and the ECB subsequently encouraged and facilitated Greece’s decade - long, Euro denominated borrowing spree which bankrupted the nation. As for the IMF, one only need to examine its long resume of so-called, “nation/economy building”, and the disastrous results that followed by redistributing wealth from Western taxpayers to a slew of corrupt, sub-Sahara African despots and its long string of “restructured” Latin American economies, in order to truly appreciate global bureaucratic folly.
In his seminal work “Wealth of Nations”, Adam Smith wrote: It is the highest impertinence and presumption… in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense... They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society.
Despite the Troika’s obvious lack of wealth creating credentials, Prime Minister Papandreou and his socialist ilk insist on scapegoating speculators, while blindly following the commandments the “greatest spendthrifts”.
Meanwhile, unable or unwilling to ban their fellow spendthrift kinsmen in Athens, the EU has instead, banned the “demonized” short-sellers, who risk proprietary capital, not taxpayer’s, in order to rightfully exploit for profit and expose the respective PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, & Spain) nations’ grossly mismanaged and insolvent economies.
This fiscal and political hypocrisy extends to the Troika’s mythical “bail-outs” of Greece. The funds that the Troika provided to Greece do not promote wealth producing economic activity. In fact, the funds are simply additional loans, albeit at below market rates, and allow Greece to continue its principle and interest payments on previously issued sovereign debt. The bail-outs, largely financed by productive Eurozone (mostly German) taxpayers, do not stimulate the Greek economy. They essentially subsidize Greece’s weak, and some technically insolvent, creditors.
Indeed, Greek banks or any other creditor that lent to Greece without properly determining credit risk failed in their primary responsibilities as lenders and deserve to lose capital or fail just like any other poorly managed business, as happened during Iceland’s recent credit crisis. On the other hand, the vigilant banks who refrained from lending to Greece deserve to be rewarded - by allowing them to buy the assets of the failed creditors at a discount to expand and strengthen their business.
Meanwhile, the Troika inspired higher taxes may address Greece’s short term liquidity needs, but they stunt long term economic growth and feed ravenous spendthrift bureaucracies.
Adam Smith wrote: There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.
Lower taxes provide the required incentive to draw investment capital from both smaller entrepreneurs and larger industries attracted to Greece’s abundant agricultural and industrial natural resources that will lay the foundation for long term prosperity by providing private sector jobs and profits for both Greek workers and businesses. In addition, lower taxes and the concomitant potential for higher return on investments; at the same time discourage legal tax shelters and illegal tax evasion and actually increase government revenue.
It’s no surprise to see why nations/states smaller than Greece, such as Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong which have low tax rates, minimal bureaucratic red tape, and incredibly, almost no natural resources, are among the most prosperous economies in the world on a per capita basis.
In his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, Adam Smith wrote: Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice…
In classic Greek irony, we find the formerly stalwart communist nations of Russia and China, that witnessed first-hand the apocalyptic failures of socialism and central planning, converting from economic “barbarism” to wealth – creating capitalism, while Greece maintains its apostasy. We can only hope and pray that Greece’s present political leaders in Athens heed the truisms of Adam Smith for their nation’s economic salvation as did the ancient Athenians that heeded the words of St. Paul for their spiritual salvation.